Hundreds of landscapers flooded Capitol Hill in July to educate Congress on the importance of H-2B visas, as part of the 22nd annual National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) Legislative Days on the Hill. The event gives companies the chance to dialogue with their representatives.
While several issues were discussed throughout the day, the H-2B visa program was paramount, as it has industry-wide implications and faces opposition from both sides of the aisle.
According to Tim Daniels, a legislative director and counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, who spoke to NALP members, the demand for H-2B visas is at an all-time high. The scarce number of visas has created what landscapers refer to as a lottery system, as they wait months to hear how many immigrant workers they can hire for the season. The most visas ever granted in a single year was 135,000.
Acres Group CEO James Schwantz discussed his company's current situation as an example of a business that relies on visas. The Roselle, Illinois-based company employs about 270 H-2B workers annually, and last year, it was unsure whether its visas would be granted.
While Schwantz said Acres ended up getting the workers it needed for the season, he stressed that waiting was very taxing on the business.
"We're reliant on the visas to complete our client work," Schwantz said. "Had we not received those, we would've had to reevaluate our business and cut back on nearly one-third of our American workers, in addition to some of the American workers who manage crews."
Other landscapers weren't as lucky as Schwantz. Many didn't receive the number of visas they expected, and had to lay off workers and make other cutbacks, making it difficult to grow their businesses.
The good news is that there's a way for landscapers across the nation to help move the conversation about H-2B visas forward. Daniels said the best way to advocate for these issues is to make your voice heard on social media and to educate your politicians.
Landscapers can start today by reaching out to politicians on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. By telling stories about how landscaping businesses are being affected in a politician's district, they will be more likely to listen. Don't forget to educate whenever possible; while it's easy to assume that most politicians are informed on these issues, they may not understand the magnitude of the effect on small businesses and American workers.